Between Clear and Cluttered
The Life Safety Code and health care corridor width
NFPA Journal®, January/February 2013
According to NFPA 101®, Life Safety Code®, new health care facilities are required to have corridors 8 feet (2.4 meters) “in clear and unobstructed width.” This has long been an issue in health care occupancies, where medical equipment and other items are often found in corridors or hung from corridor walls. The 2012 edition of the Life Safety Code made some significant changes regarding placement and use of items in corridors in health care occupancies, which was done to improve the quality of life, particularly in nursing homes, and to recognize the operational needs in hospitals.
The code now allows groups of furniture in corridors, provided the corridor is at least 8 feet wide. This allows for seating areas that can be used by residents and visitors, and as “rest stops” for occupants who cannot walk far without needing a rest. This allowance for furniture in the corridors also helps nursing homes provide a more home-like and friendlier environment. The furniture must be secured to the wall or floor, arranged so it leaves at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) clear in the corridor, and located only on one side of the corridor. Each grouping of furniture can be no larger than 50 square feet (4.6 square meters), and each grouping must be separated by at least 10 feet (3 meters). Also, corridors within the smoke compartment either need to be protected with smoke detection, or the fixed furniture locations need to be visible from a nurses’ station.
The Life Safety Code also allows non-continuous projections from the walls up to 6 inches (15 cm) deep, provided these projections are a minimum of 38 inches (96 cm) above the floor, which elevates them above gurney and cart height. This allows for telephones, flat-screen charting stations, and other items to be mounted on the corridor walls.
The Life Safety Code also expanded its provisions for wheeled items in the corridor. Projections into the corridor for wheeled equipment are permitted under three conditions: where the equipment does not reduce the corridor width to less than five feet (1.5 meters); where the fire plan provides for the relocation of the equipment in an emergency; and where the wheeled equipment is limited to equipment in use, emergency medical equipment such as crash carts or isolation carts, and patient lift and transport equipment. This last item is new. It is important that patient lift equipment be located nearby so staff can move patients as needed, and the facility will need to be careful with such equipment so that it does not block access to emergency equipment, fire and smoke door operation, or access to exits. Obviously staff training will be important.
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a Survey & Certification (S&C) letter on March 9, 2012 (Memo 12-21-LSC) that will allow nursing home and hospital providers to use these changes in the 2012 Life Safety Code by considering waivers of the 2000 edition of the Life Safety Code used by CMS. These waivers will not need to demonstrate “unreasonable hardships.” CMS has also said that it is in the process of adopting the 2012 edition of the Life Safety Code, but that process will take several months.
Permitting furniture and other types of wheeled equipment within the corridors of health care facilities is a major change in the philosophy and approach of the Life Safety Code, and issues will doubtless arise as these new provisions are implemented. After decades of working to keep corridors completely clear, inspectors and surveyors will have to work with health care providers to find a balance between the equipment and furnishings permitted in corridors while making sure that the spaces are not dominated by clutter.
Chip Carson, P.E., is president of Carson Associates, Inc., a fire engineering and code consultancy.